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Saturday, March 3, 2007
German Osieck embraces Reds challenge
Coach relishes tough task of filling legend Buchwald's boots at Urawa By
First rule of showbiz: always leave 'em wanting more.
Guido Buchwald applied this to soccer. The German gave the Urawa Reds fans their first-ever J. League title, followed that with a second-successive Emperor's Cup and then, legendary status in the bag, exited stage left, the club and fans begging him to stay.
It's a pretty tough act to follow -- but compatriot Holger Osieck believes he is up to the task.
"Well he left me a decent package," Osieck said in an interview recently. "I mentioned it to him when we spoke last time.
"Of course it is easier when you succeed somebody in a job when the team is not actually at the top, but it is a challenge that I was conscious about and I embrace it."
The Osieck Era: Part II -- he coached Urawa in 1995 and '96, finishing sixth in his second year -- hasn't got off to the best of starts, with preseason defeats in a tournament in Austria against Bayern Munich and Red Bull Salzburg and a 4-0 mauling at the hands of archrivals Gamba Osaka in the Xerox Super Cup last weekend.
A hangover from the team's success last year and an intense preseason training regime has left the Reds players tired, which goes some way to explaining their insipid performance against Gamba. But Osieck believes now is not the time to be making judgments on the Reds' prospects this season.
"The tiredness of the team is a logical consequence of what we have done in the preseason," said Osieck. "It is a normal procedure . . . you load the players to a certain extent in the preseason and fatigue is a logical outcome to a degree."
Urawa's recent success also has increased the commercial demands on the players, such as the trip to Austria, adding to the fatigue.
"The higher you step up, the more commitments of this kind you have to accept . . . It is not only business in Europe but also here, and the more successful you are the more obligations come along."
There is no let up for the Reds on the horizon. Their defense of the J1 title begins Saturday against Yokohama FC at Saitama Stadium and their Asian Champions League campaign starts Wednesday against Indonesia's Persik Kediri.
Reds president Mitsunori Fujiguchi has made no secret of his desire to see Urawa become champion of Asia and Osieck is confident the Reds will go far in the competition.
"We definitely will try our utmost to do so and I am pretty confident that if we have all our players on board, if they are fit and are ready in all kinds of aspects, like mentally or physically, and we get our stuff technically together then I am pretty confident that we can at least proceed to the next round," said Osieck.
The Urawa squad's strength in depth is the envy of many other J. League clubs, but Osieck isn't planning on rotating his players for different competitions, dampening speculation that the Reds may not be taking the league as seriously as the ACL in 2007.
"No, I would play the 11 strongest players in that particular moment," he said.
"It doesn't matter if it is the J. League or the Champions League -- I will put an equal emphasis on each competition."
Giving Osieck a helping hand in keeping his players fresh as possible for the twin assault on the league and ACL is Japan coach Ivica Osim.
The dominance of Urawa has translated into half the team being called up to the national team.
Defenders Keisuke Tsuboi and Marcus Tulio Tanaka and midfielders Keita Suzuki and Yuki Abe are particular favorites of the Japan coach, with other Reds players on the fringes of the team, but Osieck expects Osim to be fair to both club and player.
"Actually if it comes to a competition then we don't have any option at all, but if it comes to friendlies probably we can find some kind of agreement.